The Tour de France should have started on June 27 from Nice. But the Coronavirus has turned everything upside down. And the runners weren’t the only ones who had to adapt. Orange, which provides connectivity for cycling competition, also had to review its plans. With a certain pressure: the live broadcast of the race all over the world goes through its optical fiber. The security PC also depends on it, while the 3,500 people who work in the departure villages and the technical arrival areas rely daily on its eight dedicated Wi-Fi networks.
The calendar was, however, run-in. The first scouting was done as usual a year and a half in advance, so as to know the infrastructure needs at the various stages. The operator has set a rule to densify its 4G and fiber optic network within a radius of 10 kilometers around the route. A hell of a challenge in normal times when you know that the route stretches over 3,470 km and that it has 21 stages.
A delayed connection of sites
But work was interrupted this year because of the pandemic.
“I’m not telling you at the end of confinement how we hurried to get to connect sites! “, testifies Henri Terreaux, who has headed technical operations for Orange Events and has provided connectivity for the Tour for 24 years.
The Tour de France is the third most popular sporting event in the world. Its connectivity needs are enormous. It is broadcast by 97 channels in 190 countries and is covered by several hundred journalists on site. # TDF2020 pic.twitter.com/6izPxix8ay
– 01net (@ 01net) September 11, 2020
After confinement, working conditions remained more complex than usual due to health protocols. However, there is no question of giving up making a whole network out of the ground on certain mountain stages devoid of infrastructure. “At Mont Aigoual, for example, we did 17 km of civil engineering to connect optical fiber to the summit”, says Henri Terreaux proudly. On the 10th stage of the Tour which we attended, we also had to obtain authorizations to intervene on the site of the Château de l’Ile d’Oléron which is classified or on that of the Vauban fortifications of the Ile de Ré listed in the Unesco heritage.
Despite the Coronavirus, Orange still managed to fiber 23 new sites with optical fiber and to cover 242 new municipalities with 4G in a sustainable manner.
Video conferencing for journalists
It was also necessary to redeploy the press rooms because of the shift in the dates of the Tour. Finally, the 350 journalists authorized to cover the event on site for this 2020 edition could no longer freely access the competitors confined in their sanitary facilities. A 4K videoconferencing system has been set up to provide the traditional press conferences for the yellow jersey and the stage winner. “We are also offering for the first time a simultaneous translation system in English and Spanish broadcast via an application to which journalists can connect through an application from the press room”, details the technical director.
The device for broadcasting the Tour de France live has not changed. And it is still so complex. The motorcycles that follow the cyclists carry cameras that send their images to a helicopter, itself transferring the flow to an airplane. They are then received by two microwave links mounted on top of a crane from Globecast, which belongs to Orange, on the technical finish area. In the end, the images are collected by the OB vans of France Télévisions and foreign channels which make their own production of the competition. But to then broadcast the race around the world, everything immediately starts again via the fiber optic cables laid by Orange. The Great Loop is complete!